Local rights group Licadho has asked Phnom Penh prison officials to investigate the death of a five-month-old baby last month, who was living with her mother at the capital’s Correctional Center 2.
The baby, whose mother was arrested and in pre-trial detention for possessing $2.50 of methamphetamine, had been taken to National Pediatric Hospital for a thighbone fracture in late January, according to statement issued by Licadho on Tuesday.
The hospital did not allow the baby to spend the night for observation, after which the baby returned to prison with its mother and started to experience medical complications, such as a high fever and persistent coughing.
“Hospital staff refused, reportedly saying there was no room for them,” the statement reads.
After the baby’s condition worsened, it was taken back to the hospital where it developed lung complications and died on January 26. Licadho said an autopsy revealed that baby died from pneumonia and severe malnutrition.
The group on Tuesday asked for an investigation into the death and called for pregnant mothers and women living in prison with children to be given bail immediately.
“We hope that all pregnant women and mothers in prison with their children, currently serving pre-trial detention, be granted bail or have their trials completed before International Women’s Day on 8 March, 2020,” Licadho said in the statement.
According to the NGO’s statistics, there are 103 children living with their mothers and 43 pregnant women in the 18 prisons monitored by Licadho. The significant uptick in incarcerated women and their children follows the mass incarceration of Cambodians as part of the country’s “war on drugs,” which started in 2017.
Nheb Angkeabos, director of the National Pediatric Hospital, said he couldn’t recall if a child from prison was admitted in the hospital or not.
Last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen lamented the incarceration of mothers, their children and pregnant women, vowing to set up legal teams to assist them with their criminal cases. It is unclear how many women have received assistance or been given bail since the announcement.
Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin said the prime minister’s legal committee will provide the mother with assistance, but Prison Department official Nuth Savna blamed the mother for the child’s death. He also denied the baby was malnourished.
“I think the mother may neglect the child because she didn’t even know that her child bone was broken,” he said.
Licadho monitoring manager Am Sam Ath said it was critical to give these women legal representation and that giving them bail was the first priority, so that they could care for their children outside prison.